It Starts With Wonder | Guest blog post from Kate Messner

It Starts With Wonder

by Kate Messner 

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This series started on a school field trip. I taught seventh grade English for fifteen years, as part of a wonderful interdisciplinary team. Every winter, we used to take our students on a snowshoe field trip in the nearby Adirondack Mountains to look for animal tracks and other signs of life in the winter woods. On one of those field trips, we saw this.

Hole in snow
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

It was just a little hole in the snow, with some tiny tracks leading up to it. The naturalist guiding us could have walked right on past. But instead, she stopped our group and said, “Oh! Everyone gather around and look at this!” When we were all circled around, she pointed down and said breathlessly, “Do you know what this means?” She paused. Then she whispered. “This means that we’ve had a visitor from…the subnivean zone!”

We stood in hushed silence for a moment until someone said, “What’s that?” And our guide explained that the subnivean zone is the fancy phrase used to describe the secret network of tunnels and tiny caves that exist under the winter snow. All the smallest forest animals knew about it, she told us, and they’d go down there to be a little warmer, a little safer from predators. And then we continued on down the path.

But the rest of the day, as I padded through the woods on my snowshoes, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. We’d been hiking for three or four miles…and all that time, there’d been a secret invisible world going on down there, under the snow? I asked a lot more questions. We talked more about the different animals who make their winter homes under the snow and the creatures who find their way through the woods above. And when I got back to the school bus, after I took attendance and made sure we hadn’t left any seventh graders out in the woods, I started writing. I didn’t even have a notebook with me that day – my first draft of Over and Under the Snow was written on the back of the attendance list for the field trip, in bumpy, school-bus handwriting. But it couldn’t wait, because I was fuelled by wonder that afternoon.

That’s what we do as writers of children’s books – we wonder. We stop everyone in their tracks. We slow down the day for a few minutes to say, “Look at this! Look more closely… Isn’t it amazing?” And that’s how I know when I have a story idea with the staying power to grow into a picture book. If I’m feeling that sense of awe at how things work, how things are, how amazing this part of our natural world is, then kids are likely to feel that way, too.

After Over and Under the Snow was published and doing well in the world, Chronicle asked illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I if there might be another hidden world we’d like to explore. We emailed back and forth a bit, talking about the things that made us wonder. And we discovered that we both loved our vegetable gardens. Not just the weeding and tomato-eating part of gardening…but the wondering part. We’re both parents who love getting down on our bellies to look more closely at the critters that inhabit our gardens, and that was the wonder that sparked our second book together, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Our third book together, Over and Under the Pond, starts in that same place – with a familiar setting and a desire to slow down for a closer look. When I was getting ready to work on this book, I went back to the setting of Over and Under the Snow – the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center in the Adirondacks – but in a different season. The pond that had been covered with ice and snow in January felt like an entirely different place in July — a green, lush, buzzing ecosystem, just waiting to be explored. So I scheduled one of the centre’s guided canoe trips and spent a day paddling through the reeds. We marvelled at the tiny water striders skating on the pond’s surface, stared up at woodpecker scars on a tall tree by the water, and gasped as an American Bittern fluttered up from the grass.

Over the pond
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

There were families along on the trip, and I watched them, too. With their phones turned off and tucked away in waterproof bags, they paddled through the quiet together, whispering about the minnows and wondering what might live in that hollow log on shore. Slowing down in places like this feeds us in important ways. As a writer, I walked away from my canoe at the end of the day full of ideas, full of images and poetry and fresh air. I was ready to hit the library, finish my research, and get to work on Over and Under the Pond. But maybe even more important than that, spending time in the quiet of a cold snowy trail or a warm mountain pond reminds us to slow down. To look. Listen. And wonder. That’s my biggest hope for these books – that they’ll bring families together on the couch for a cozy story and then outdoors to wonder, too.


Over and Under the Pond is out now, order your copy today.

Guest Blog Post | Sarah Lemon’s Inspiration for Done Dirt Cheap

Sarah Lemon has momentarily put down her motorcycle to talk to us about the journey that brought her to write her debut novel: Done Dirt Cheap.

Take it away Sarah!

Done Dirt Cheap Inspiration

Writing at times feels like a superpower, unwieldy in my hands, not something I’m fully in control of, but a power that lets me raise my fingers and pull fragments of my world together into something new and beautiful. I can point to shards of glinting glass in the whole and talk about how that piece came to be. Done Dirt Cheap came from many places in my life and history. But for today, I want to tell you how it almost never happened.

There’s an unspoken rule in Art: Don’t talk about how much you suck, your fear, or how tenuous it feels. Unless it’s in a self-deprecating show of humility as someone is handing you the Pulitzer.

It’s part of success—the sheen of it, like a rainbow slick of oil on water.

But I’m not always great with rules and clear water is better than oil.

Done Dirt Cheap only happened because of a lesson I had learned a long time ago, on the back of a monster dirt-bike, on which I couldn’t touch the ground even when I pointed my toes.

I was fourteen, living in a part of the world that was only valuable for its minerals. My landscape had been stripped, clawed at, dug under and left behind as garbage. Our groundwater was tainted. Our basements full of radiation. Our streams clogged with weird foams and slick spools of dark muck. We had dug too deep and a darkness hung over everything.

In the strip mines, I found a place I could breathe. In those raped and forgotten places I could string together forty or more miles of new life. The landscape would rise and fight with me, and together we wouldn’t be forgotten girl and forgotten land, but two things who were still alive and able to grasp at our fate. It brutalised me to make me. I was in every way, an average, bookish, fourteen-year-old girl with a fear so strong it came out as teeth. But out in the mines, I was free of that skin. I could fly. I could see a line and fight my way to the end. I could fall, pitch over the handlebars, run my bike up a tree, flip end over end and still stand, pick up the bike, and begin again. Just writing this, fifteen years later, I can still feel the pump in my arms from wrestling the dirt-bike on the thin threads of trails that wound around deep, sentient holes of green water, cone mountains of slag and silt, and grated air shafts leading into the abyss.

“Treskow” was a route we took often—named after the tiny old mining town it began in. We rode through the woods, along an old railroad bed with no tracks, before dropping down a slippery rock covered mountain into an uninhabited valley. I would drag my back brake the whole way down, my teeth chattering from the rocks. But the real challenge was at the end of the mud-holed valley. We always stopped and craned our necks at the steep switchback of the mountain ahead. It made me sick to look at it, every time. By that point, there was no way to get home and no way to give up. I wanted to be there, but hadn’t known how terrifying it was going to be. Every time.

When I started Done Dirt Cheap, that’s where I was – at the bottom of a giant switchback, too far from home and looking up at the power lines humming between transformers while everyone else sped ahead of me.

In those tenuous moments where you are balancing on the edge of failure, the natural desire is to hold back. You think “Oh I’ll go slow and easy and pick my way up.” But in slippy slag and miles of steep switchbacks, you simply will run out of power. Each switchback has to be hit hard and powered through, or you’ll never make it to the top. There is no easing through the terrain.  Manoeuvre swiftly or you’ll pitch over the edge. So, with this book, I was miles deep into publishing terrain. I had failed a lot. I had dragged my back brake down the mountain and even though, yes, I was out there, I was at the back of the crowd, wishing I was at home. Uncertain I could actually do this.

Looking ahead, I wanted nothing more than to go slow and safe. Something sure. But I had been here before. I knew what held me back was fear.  This was the moment in riding where you have to pin back that throttle and ride with your jaw tight and your stomach in your throat.

So, I did.

Lord, I did.

And just like in riding, I prayed and held on and hoped for the best. With Done Dirt Cheap, I somehow popped over the top of that switchback with the valley below me and the sky above. I’m further than I ever expected to be.

Further, but with miles to go. I know the trail still—how it winds over the ridge before dropping down again and then taking me through another technical mountain crossing. I’m leaning over the gas tank, holding the throttle back. The wind is whipping my hair and I taste elation, panic, and dust in my mouth. All I can do is hope the trail keeps up with me, and I keep up with the trail.

Ride or die. Write or die.

P.S. Please buy my book.

Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon is on sale 7th March 2017. Order your copy here.

Done Dirt Cheap
Image by Kate Ormand

Bookstore of the Month | The Alligator’s Mouth

Bookstore of the Month

Happy New Year friends! Here to launch our Bookstore of the Month feature for 2017 is a bookstore with a BITE, the incomparable children’s bookshop: The Alligator’s Mouth.

The Alligator's Mouth

  1. Describe The Alligator’s Mouth in three words.

Friendly, toothsome & biblioquirky.

  1. Where is your favourite spot in the store?

We generally discourage customers from obstructing the steps in the centre of the shop, between picture books and books for older readers, but it can be a nice place to sit with a cup of tea when the shop goes quiet.

  1. Give us a brief history of The Alligator’s Mouth

Margaret and Tony worked together at the Lion and Unicorn children’s bookshop, which had a great reputation in Richmond built up over more than 30 years. When it closed, they decided look for a new premises where they could carry on doing what they love doing. Mark joined the team as the third full time member of staff and the shop opened in March 2015. Our launch event featured Chris Riddell, Jacqueline Wilson, Axel Scheffler, Jim Smith and a host of other wonderful authors and illustrators who were there to get us off to a good start. We stock books from baby to young adult and host storytimes, a comics club, a 9-11 bookclub and frequent author events. In the nearly two years since opening we’ve had lots of lovely community support, getting involved with local schools, community centres and theatres. In November 2015 we were voted best Richmond shop in the Time Out Love London Awards. The name comes from a Lemony Snicket quote: ‘A book is like an alligator’s mouth — If you see one open you often end up disappearing inside.’

  1. Do you have a store pet?

No, we don’t have a pet. An argument has just broken out over whether our ideal bookstore pet would be a griffin or a moomin…

(The A&CB team voted; we think a griffin would be impressive, but a moomin would be less likely to damage the books and readers…)

Chris Ridell at The Alligator's Mouth

  1. Do you have a favourite author? If yes, who is it?

We all love Chris Riddell’s work. There are favourite books here for all ages that he has either written or illustrated or both (‘Ottoline’, ‘When I Met Dudley’ and ‘Alienography’ to name but a few). We were very lucky to have him draw our alligator logo, and it had to be Chris to cut the ribbon on the shop at our launch event.

  1. What is your favourite opening line from a book?

    Margaret has picked Where’s Papa going with that ax?[sic], the unexpectedly sinister opening from E. B. White’sCharlotte’s Web’.

    The Alligator's Mouth

  1. What was the last book you read?

Tony: ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ by Alan Bradley
Margaret: ‘The Road to Ever After’ by Moira Young
Mark: ‘Podkin One Ear’ by Kieren Larwood

  1. What is your favourite A&CB books?

We all love ‘Ada Twist: Scientist’ by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts. We’d also like to mention ‘Flora and the Flamingo’ by Molly Idle and anything by Benjamin Chaud (‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School’, etc.) We find we can rely on A&CB for beautifully illustrated and designed books, often with thoughtful and original content.

  1. What is your favourite book?

One book that we all continue to enjoy as we recommend it to parents, teachers and cheeky children is ‘Battle Bunny’ by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett & Matthew Myers. A little boy has received a twee book called Birthday Bunny, but with the power of a marker pen he has transformed it into the awesome, action-packed tale of Battle Bunny! We’ve had at least two teachers take it away and base lesson plans around it. For booksellers it’s satisfying to help others unlock the potential in an unusual book like this.

10.

Share a #Shelfie with us!

A&CB Titles at The Alligator's Mouth

Here’s a table filled with some of our favourite A&CB books, new and old.

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You can find The Alligator’s Mouth at 2a Church Court, Richmond, TW9 1JL. If you  find yourself in Richmond make sure you pop-in and say hello.

Follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Five Cookbooks for Foodies by Jenny Linford

The Chefs Library

Jenny Linford, author of The Chef’s Library knows a thing or two about cookbooks; having interviewed more than 70 renowned chefs around the world about their favourite cookbooks. She is here today to share the cookbooks she cherishes.

FIVE FAVOURITE COOKBOOKS by Jenny Linford

Having blithely asked famous chefs around the world to choose their favourite cookbook, now that I’ve been asked to choose my own five favourites I realise what a tricky task that was! I am sitting at my desk in my study in London, surrounded by bookshelves filled with cookbooks.  Some of them are battered old paperbacks I’ve had for years, others recently published, handsome tomes by chefs and writers whom I admire and find interesting. Researching The Chef’s Library saw me adding considerably to my own library, as I encountered wonderful cookbooks new to me and succumbed to the urge to own them for myself. In short, I’m spoilt for choice! For my favourites, I’ve chosen books that are old friends. This is one of the charms of cookbooks – that they become our companions.

 

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book

I mentally applauded when three of the great chefs featured in The Chef’s Library chose cookbooks by Jane Grigson. While pleased, though, I was not surprised. Their choice of her work is a tribute to enduring appeal of Grigson’s depth of knowledge and her special voice that speaks out from the pages of her books. My much-thumbed, Penguin paperback edition of Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book remains one of my favourites. Alphabetically arranged by vegetable, each chapter offers her characteristic blend of down-to-earth, practical culinary advice, evocative anecdotes, cultural references and clearly written recipes. An enduring delight.

 

The Classic Italian Cookbook
Marcella Hazan

A great food writer’s ability to promote a deeper understanding of a cuisine outside its native shores is  a very special thing.  Through her bestselling cookbooks, Marcella Hazan was a champion of Italian cuisine, noted as an authority on the subject. Unsurprisingly, works by her were chosen by a number of chefs for The Chef’s Library. Having lived in Tuscany as a teenager, I have a deep affection for Italian food. Hazan’s intelligent, lucid writing – laying down the rules as she saw them with absolute conviction – makes for a wonderful read. The clearly written recipes, offering readers salient, pithy insights, are a pleasure to cook from.

 

Roast Chicken and Other Stories Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham

Roast Chicken and Other Stories
Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham

As all the best cookbooks do, this makes me hungry whenever I look through its pages. Chocolate Pithiviers, Poached Cod with Lentils and Salsa Verde, Anchovy and Onion Tarts . . . I first came across this book during my early years as a food writer and was charmed by its character and sense of personality. The chapters are focussed on Hopkinson’s favourite foods, clustering together diverse recipes around ingredients as various as Tripe, Endive and Cream. What struck me when I first read I was the care with which the recipes were written. Hopkinson evokes the dish in its Platonic ideal form – specifying the desired texture and flavour he wants – then carefully takes the reader through the steps and work needed to achieve it. It is a book that makes me want to cook.

 

The Carved Angel Cookbook
Joyce Molyneux

There is a lovely, quiet conviction to this cookbook by British chef Joyce Molyneux.  The recipes are delightfully eclectic, reflecting Molyneux’s open-minded interest in ingredients and how to cook  them. Her practical thriftiness is evident in the recipes for dishes such as Goose Giblet Stew or the Apple Quince Tart, where the fruit trimmings are cooked and pureed in order to  make a flavourful glaze.  I was lucky enough to eat at Molyneux’s Carved Angel restaurant – enjoying a wonderful fish soup – and it was a relaxed, genuinely hospitable, thoroughly delicious experience that lives on in my memory. While the restaurant has now gone, her cookbook, in which her generous-minded approach to food comes through, remains to be read and used.

 

The Kitchen Diaries Nigel Slater

The Kitchen Diaries
Nigel Slater

The intimacy of the diary form gives a special charm to this chronicle of a year by food writer Nigel Slater.  Food shopping expeditions, the weather that day, the changing seasons,  his mood, ingredients, whether at their peak or in need to using up – all these offer inspiration for Slater when it comes to  creating recipes. It is a book in which I always spot something new when I look through it – a wry observation, an evocation of a summer Saturday morning, brief insights into his thinking about food.  The recipes, studded through the book, combine with the elegant yet vivid prose to make a cookbook with a special quality to it.

What are your favourite cookbooks? Let us know on twitter @AbramsChronicle using #TheChefsLibrary.

The story behind Ada’s Ideas by Fiona Robinson.

Ada's Ideas Cover

My latest picture book is called Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer.

I first came across Ada Lovelace in a somewhat circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by the lead character Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.

Ada as a baby pps 10_11

About a year later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science. Thomasina existed!

Ada in the factory pps 16_17

The more I read about Ada the more I became obsessed with her. Ada, the daughter of the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ poet Lord Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke. A girl separated from her father soon after birth by her mother who feared the influence of Byron’s reckless lifestyle. A girl who suffered a long term childhood illness and an over bearing mother who tried to steer her on a safe course (poetry free!) towards becoming a respectable aristocratic lady!

(Ada’s mum and dad pages 8_9)

As a young woman Ada entered the world of the elite. She became friends with the likes of Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday and Charles Babbage. Her friendship with Charles Babbage and her mathematical brilliance led her to write what would become know as the worlds first computer program. And her vision of what a computer might be capable of astounded the pioneers of computing in the 20th century!

(Ada meeting people pages 22_23 )

I learned that Ada found her own sort of poetic experience, through mathematics. And I found this intriguing, uplifting, and a story I had to tell. Like many girls of my time I struggled with maths. I was the kid who got brought back into the classroom at lunchtime to wrangle long division. Maths made me cry.

(Ada sick pages 20_21

I wondered how many other little girls have a negative experience with maths. And as I read more about Ada and her achievement in becoming the world’s first computer programmer, I realised that Ada struggled too. She struggled to write the algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, but kept on going. She struggled to be taken seriously in a male dominated society, but never gave up.

(Ada last page 34_35 )

I hope Ada might become a heroine for primary school girls, not just in terms of her accomplishments, but because she used her imagination to fuel her work. And imagination is something all kids have in abundance!

(Ada on flying horse pages 6_7)

When I was first thinking about the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life. This involved sketching out the images, then colouring them with my favourite paints – Japanese watercolours.

Watercolours

I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade which is pretty similar to a scalpel. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!

 X-Acto blade cut outs

Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using Lego bricks and glued them in place. Then each spread was photographed.

Cutouts with lego bricks Cutouts with lego bricks

I really enjoyed creating the art, and hope too that it will be enjoyed by many young readers!

Ada’s Ideas by Fiona Robinson is available now.

Celtic Tales

Kate Forrester, illustrator behind the bold illustrations in Celtic Tales, talks inspiration, loving what you do and the beauty that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone.

Celtic Tales_Book Cover

Every now and then I get sent a commission that really allows me to push the boat out and create something really special. So often my jobs are very heavily art directed and don’t require as much imagination as you would think but this was no such project.

Before I had even got my hands on the manuscript, I knew this project was going to be right up my street! When i spoke to Emily, the designer from Chronicle, I knew we would be approaching this with the same vision. As well as illustrating the stories, she wanted me to design various patterns and bring the traditional Celtic knot work into my work and those are the kind of details i adore. I knew that it would work well to keep the illustration quite simple and the colours flat – my work is often likened to paper cuts or silhouette art – so this balanced nicely with the decorative borders and end papers she had in mind. Despite the traditional nature of the tales, I knew from the start that i didn’t want my illustrations to be too quaint or conventional so this was a challenge to overcome.

Once I read the manuscript, I was even more excited to be asked to illustrate such a rich collection of stories. There were sea monsters, princesses and even a 3 headed giant! Being very character driven, it was quite different to my usual commissions which tend to involve hand lettering as the main starting point. But it was refreshing to do something different and out of my comfort zone.

As luck would have it, right about the time I accepted this job,there was a big exhibition at The British Museum on the art and identity of The Celts. It was such a perfect start to my research. The exhibition was brilliant – dark and atmospheric and featuring lots of knot patterned metal and ceramic tools in pleasing shapes.

The way I work is to sketch out the rough layout of each story illustration using pencil and pen on paper and fill in heavy areas of dark shades to make sure they are more or less balanced designs. I do not keep my sketches and they are not beautiful!

Rough Sketches_Celtic Tales

 

But I was happy to know that my roughs were accepted pretty much as they were with very little amends before moving on to the final images.
The next stage for me was to develop the colour scheme as this was to tie all the tales together and was to be quite limited (I think there are only 8 or 9 shades in the whole book.) I also saw this as a chance to inject a more modern element to the book with some nice clashing shades of coral pink and mustard yellow. Colour is always important in my work but for this project it was vital to get it right!

Celtic tales Colour scheme

I guess the most laborious (but satisfying!) part of the task was researching and re-imagining the Celtic knot borders. Luckily my research at the British Museum had  left me with a wealth of books and visual reference to draw from. Once the 16 designs were complete, the cover was a breeze. I simply chose my 4 favourite characters from the stories and used them as a starting point to fit in the rough layout given to me by Emily.

celtic tales_blog post

We tried a few different colour ways but i was very pleased when my favourite coral and teal version was chosen for the final jacket.

celtic tales_alt covers

It was a dream project and I was so excited when the final book landed on my desk this week. I just hope everyone else enjoys reading those crazy , wonderful tales as much as I did!

We think you did an incredible job Kate! 

Find out more about Kate and Celtic Tales here.

chronicle-books-celtic-tales-57d2c256f2ca6chronicle-books-celtic-tales-57d2c24970714chronicle-books-celtic-tales-57d2c24955afd

 

Bookstore of the Month | Much Ado Books

Bookstore of the Month

Let us introduce you to our Bookstore of the Month; Much Ado Books.

“We are Cate Olson and Nash Robbins – Americans who decided to sell books in a Medieval village tucked in the South Downs . . .”

Much Ado Books Much Ado Books

  1. Describe Much Ado Books in Three Words

Unexpected discoveries abound

Much Ado best spot

  1. Where is your favourite spot in your store?

Upstairs, in the comfy armchair of our Arts & Letters Room, surrounded by books.

Much Ado Books Much Ado Books

  1. Give us a brief history of Much Ado Books.

Twenty years selling vintage books in America and dreaming of living in Britain, which led to 13 years selling both new and old books in rural East Sussex

Much Ado Chickens Much Ado Books

  1. Has Much Ado got a store pet?

We have three bantam hens, named Little One, Bully Girl and Frizzle. They occupy their time eating plants, making trouble and showing off for customers.

  1. Do you have a favourite author? If yes, who is it?

Robertson Davies – his books are sparkling, funny and engaging as well as thought-provoking; he should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature!

  1. What is your favourite opening line from a book?

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle.

  1. What was the last book you read?

Cate: Annie Barrows, The Truth According to Us

Nash: Joanna Kavenna – A Field Guide to Reality

Together (we read aloud every night): Elizabeth Leitch – The Saturday Club (an out-of-print classic given by a friend who loves childrens’ books)

  1. What is your favourite A&CB books?

Downstairs favourite: Andrea Beaty – Iggy Peck Architect

Upstairs favourite: Carlos Fuentes The Diary of Frida Kahlo

  1. What is your favourite book?

Discussions (arguments?) are on-going!

  1. Share a #Shelfie with us! 

Much Ado Books  Much Ado Books Much Ado Books

 

You will find this award-winning independent bookshop in Alfriston, East Sussex.

Much Ado Books
8 West Street
Alfriston
East Sussex
BN26 5UX
UK

t: 01323 871222

e: shop@muchadobooks.com

Follow them on Twitter and Instagram. And don’t forget to sign-up to their newsletter.

5 Questions Monday with Brendan Wenzel

5 Questions Monday

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

I like to switch it up every few weeks. I have eggs almost every morning, and it’s good to keep things interesting. If I had to choose -Poached.

What’s your favourite joke?

My cousin told me this when we were five-

Two tomatoes are sitting on a fence. One tomato looks over to the other and says, “Hey. I’m gonna push you off this fence.” The second tomato looks back and says “no, you’re not”.

Then you just start doing something else, and wait until your audience realizes that the jokes over. No one ever thinks it’s funny but me. I think it’s really funny.

What film character are you most like?

Mothra.

(Psssst, if you didn’t know:  is a Kaijū monster that first appeared in Toho’s 1961 film Mothra. Mothra has appeared in several Toho tokusatsu films, most often as a recurring character in the Godzilla franchise. She is typically portrayed as a colossal sentient caterpillar or moth, accompanied by two miniature humanoids speaking on her behalf. Unlike other Toho monsters, Mothra is a largely heroic character, having been variously portrayed as a protector of her own island culture, the earth and Japan.)

What is the first book you ever read?

The first one I remember is Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. It’s still one of my favourites.

Would you rather be a cat for a day or a dog for a day?

Given the amount if thought I’v devoted to cats over the past two years, it would feel borderline irresponsible to say a dog. Honestly, either would be great, but if I had to choose, a cat.

They All Saw a Cat

Brendan’s new book; They All Saw a Cat, is on sale tomorrow! Pick-up a copy at any good bookstore and discover a world of curiosity and imagination.

 

QUOTH THE RAVEN, “NEVERMORE.”

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary,

while I pondered weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping,

suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping,

rapping at my chamber door . . .

 

Paper engineer, David Pelham, has re-imagined Edgar Alan Poe‘s haunting poem; The Raven, through incredible paper craft; he is here today to share the process and inspiration for creating this awe inspiring book.

UNDER THE SPELL OF ‘THE RAVEN’ by David Pelham

In the grey drab days of the late 1930s my earliest memory took shape from within the confines of an iron-framed, high-sided hospital bed. Three years old and recovering from an emergency operation, I was visited by a very kind but rather gaunt giant of an uncle in a dark overcoat. I can still see him looming above me as he reached deep into his pocket, slowly withdrawing the most wonderful, the most dazzling and exciting toy I had ever seen: a toy that awoke in me a visual sense that has influenced and enhanced my life ever since.

It was a magical clockwork butterfly, its shiny tin wings printed in rainbow colours. To me it was the toy-most toy imaginable, joyful and strange, with wings flapping, colours blurring and merging to make more colours. This thrilling piece of clockwork poetry delighted me as it flitted noisily about upon my bed-tray, while outside the dark clouds of war were gathering ominously.

Today, over seventy years later, I still vividly recall my infant joy at the sight of my wonderful tin butterfly, and I believe that something of its bright colours and the visual excitement it gave me during those dark days have stayed with me, and have had a strong influence on my novelty books for the young.

I have had a lifelong passion for kites; their design, construction, performance, and, of course, their bright colours. In the mid 1970s while art director of Penguin Books I wrote The Penguin Book of Kites which is still in print today. This book later led on to a further large-format volume called Kites to Make and Fly, published in 1981 by Pan Books. When detached, the pages could be cut, folded and glued to create ten kites.

During the process of designing these paper kites I became captivated by the creative potential offered by the simple, low-tech immediacy of constructing three-dimensional sculptural forms out of nothing more than folded paper and glue. After an intensive period of self-instruction and exciting experimentation I found that my hitherto flat creative efforts were almost magically lifting off the page as pop-up entities into a dramatic extra dimension. This discovery had set me free, and my love-affair with pop-up books and paper engineering began.

The Raven Book Cover

The idea of treating Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in pop-up form was first suggested to me in 2013 by my wife, Jacqui Graham. Jacqui works closely with Clive James and would regularly check James’s sales on the Amazon bestseller list and elsewhere. While doing so she was struck by how often The Raven topped the poetry charts both in the UK and the US. After some further checking she was also struck by the number of distinguished translations of the poem that exist.

The Raven: A Pop-up Book

As she knew that my interest in the works of Edgar Allen Poe goes back to my schooldays, and that I had previously considered other Gothic ideas, she suggested that The Raven might make an interesting proposition. As usual she was right, and I spent the next six months or so pondering on the notion, assessing how best to distribute the eighteen wonderful stanzas of the poem through the seven spreads of the book in such a way as to maximise the drama, impact and dimensional potential of each spread while completely respecting and staying true to the text.

So vivid is the imagery of the text it was not long before I had the book planned and, while the paper engineering had its challenges, the structure of each individual tableau began to slowly emerge from the seven spreads of the book.

The Raven

Pop-up books vary widely in complexity, and the degree of complexity obviously very largely governs the cost to the publisher, The Raven is a complex book with some very challenging assemblies and, while designing the book wasn’t easy, the real work starts when the printer is sent a blank dummy of the proposal. This assembled blank is accompanied by a make-up sheet showing all the die-cut shapes arranged jig-saw style. The pieces are grouped along with the concertina pages into which the pieces will eventually be fitted.

These sheets are generally referred to as ‘nesting sheets’, and if the complex die-cut pieces exceed the available area on the sheet then it’s back to the drawing board for modifications. This takes time of course, so the designer is then caught between – not so much as a rock and a hard place – but more between a budget and a schedule.

On receiving the designer’s blank dummy and the nesting sheet, the printer then cuts and assembles a number of copies of the blank, carefully timing the assembly process in order to help establish an overall manufacturing cost.

Several of these dummies are then sent to the publisher and the designer for approval. Much later they will send out printed proof sheets for the approval of the designer and the illustrator.

The Raven: A Pop-up Book

From the outset of The Raven project I had hoped to persuade the artist and engraver Christopher Wormell to illustrate the book. I had admired his work for many years yet had neither met nor worked with him. Prior to our first meeting – in order to convey something of the illustrative technique I wanted – I prepared a further dummy by montaging each spread with blowups of Victorian engravings to suggest the mood I had in mind. To my delight Christopher was very enthusiastic, and I knew at that moment that this book was no longer ‘my’ book but ‘our’ book, and that with Christopher on board it could become very special.

Communicating mainly by email I would send Christopher the refined die-cut shapes showing my rough drawings, along with reference material and so forth, and by return I would receive his preliminary sketches. These were magnificent, strong and assured drawings of such confidence and brilliance that they constantly brought to mind my complete dismay that drawing, the rudimentary skill of visual creativity, is – to our shame – no longer taught in our art schools.

The Raven_Internal

Drawing is the discipline that lies at the very root of creative endeavour, as important to artists, designers, architects, engineers and scientists as is the written word. Similarly in music the understanding, appreciation and practice of scales and chords must form the rudiments of any real musician’s craft, so the ability to draw is essential to any real artist or designer.

The study of drawing not only concerns itself with making marks, it also develops scrutiny and perception, sharpening our ability to look rather than to simply see. It is an essential skill; a means of enhancing our perception of the physical world around us; a skill that helps us not only to observe, but also to convey, develop and present our creative concepts.

Although Christopher had never previously tackled the demands of a pop-up book he took to the task quickly and positively, constantly providing work that far surpassed that which was expected from the brief.

The Raven_Internal

Some months later I was holding an assembled pass-proof, apprehensively turning each page, carefully scrutinising each little tableau in turn, checking that every one of my detailed adjustments had been carried out by the printer, the die makers and the assembly teams. All was in order. I was holding the result of three years of intensive work in my hands and it felt good.

The Raven: A Pop-up Book is out now. Find out more and buy your copy on our website.

 

#SummerReads | Author Suggestions Part 4

Share a picture of your TBR pile!

Last (but by no means least) in our #SummerReads series is the new super-talent Riley Redgate.

 Show us your bookshelf Riley!

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows – I’m obsessed with this book’s vivid world-building, and a big part of that is the casual diversity of its cast, representing different races, sexualities, body types, and disability, all incredibly refreshing to see in the fantasy genre.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot – This book is unrelentingly witty and often really funny, with the sort of dry humour that made me snicker to myself while reading it in public—but I love it most for its thorough, nuanced portrayal of mental illness.

Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Books that are as quiet as this one really compel me, the way they find deep meaning in small everyday things.

Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings – Haven’t read this yet, but I’m excited for anything with a large central cast of 6 and a panoramic scope.

Mindy McGinnis’ A Madness So Discreet - Set in 19th-century asylums, this book is equal parts feminist and brutal, two of my favourite traits to find in YA.

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven – Maybe the best thing about the luminescent Station Eleven - and there are about eight million Best Things in this incredible novel – is how Mandel re-conceptualises the post-apocalypse: it’s so stylish these days to write dark and gritty and nihilist, but she chooses instead to focus on the lasting impact of art, the fundamental goodness of most people, and the wonders of being alive today. This book is life-changing, paradigm-shifting stuff.

Which one will you pick? Join the conversation using #ACBbooks.

Have you read Riley’s debut; Seven Ways We Lie? It is a MUST for any contemporary YA fans.

SevenLies_Bookmark_FRONT

“Seven Ways We Lie is a superb contemporary YA read, touching upon many different issues facing young people today and with a diverse cast of characters. It’s clever, gripping and hugely relatable, making it not only fun novel for today’s teens but also a very important one.”Page to Stage Reviews

“Its so exciting to see some pansexual representation in YA! Were also completely up for how deliciously twisty this sounds were hoping for some shocking twists and turns. We really love the cover, too.”Maximum Pop

“I love the way their stories intertwined” Snuggling on the Sofa, Blog